need for the equity project

Precise information about the numbers of LGBT youth in justice systems nationwide is not available, partly because youth are socialized to hide their identities for their safety. However, LGBT youth are disproportionately represented among youth who are at risk for juvenile justice contact.

Risk factors that increase the likelihood of juvenile justice contact for LGBT youth include:

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  • Homelessness and runaway status, after youth are kicked out or flee domestic abuse by family members unable to accept the youth’s gender identity or sexual orientation

  • Involvement in survival crimes such as theft and prostitution

  • Violence and harassment in school, causing LGBT youth to skip classes, perform worse, and lower their aspirations

  • Social isolation from the wider community, including some civic institutions and extended family networks

  • High rates of depression, chronic stress, and substance abuse due to family and societal rejection


LGBT youth are also highly vulnerable once they enter the juvenile justice system. A few of the documented threats that LGBT youth face are:

  • Court and law enforcement officials’ lack of understanding about sexual orientation and gender identity issues

  • Verbal, physical, and sexual abuse by staff and fellow residents in court-ordered placements

  • Unnecessary use of isolation and segregation in confinement

  • Inappropriate sexual offense charges arising from consensual same-sex conduct

Juvenile justice professionals desperately need more information, training, and resources to ensure that LGBT youth are treated fairly. LGBT young people have the same rights as other youth in the justice system, including: effective assistance of counsel, protection from harassment and harm, individualized disposition plans, and fair and respectful treatment. These rights are guaranteed by the federal Constitution and by state non-discrimination provisions where applicable.

project partners

Legal Services for Children

1254 Market Street, 3rd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94102
tel. 415.863.3762
fax 415.863.7708
Equity Project Contact:
Carolyn Reyes, Staff Attorney

National Center for Lesbian Rights

870 Market Street
Suite 370
San Francisco, CA 94102
Equity Project Contact:
Shannon Wilber, Youth Project Director
tel. 415.624.6071

National Juvenile Defender Center

1350 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 304
Washington, DC 20036
tel. 202.452.0010
fax 202.452.1205
Equity Project Contact:
Christina J. Gilbert, Equity Project Director